AZUSA, Calif.-- For the second straight game the Azusa Pacific baseball team found itself in an early hole. But after failing to climb out of it in a 6-3 loss to Fresno Pacific on Thursday night, the Cougars grinded out a 5-3 come from behind win over the Sunbirds to even the four-game Pacific West Conference series at 1-1 on Friday.
The Cougars (11-5, 7-1) spotted the Sunbirds (13-8, 5-5) three runs thanks two costly errors in the third inning, but battled back with a solo homer in the fourth, and two runs in the sixth before Jordan Brower belted a two out a full count pitch into left field to plate Dusty Sanderson for the go-ahead run in the seventh inning. Joe Huthsing’s third homer of the season, a solo shot over the left field fence, gave the Cougars an insurance run before Luis Martinez registered his third save to preserve the team’s biggest comeback victory of the season.
”They grinded it out. After the fourth inning I thought to myself, ‘I want to see how these guys respond.’ Especially after last night when we went down big early. Today we weren’t playing catch very well and we gave them a few runs. So I actually sat back and said ‘This will be a good moment for us to see what kind of group we have.’ I wanted to know if they can overcome adversity, or if they would let it snowball into a tough day. But they pulled themselves together and did a great job today,” said head coach Paul Svagdis.
Azusa Pacific committed three errors in the first three innings, including two in the third frame to allow the Sunbirds to jump out to a 3-0 lead despite registering only two hits through the first six innings. The Cougars got one run back on Brower’s fifth homer in the season, and knotted the game at 3-3 in the sixth with a one-run double from Domenic Biagini and an RBI groundout from Blake James. Then in the seventh the Cougars grabbed their first lead of the series in a sequence of events that epitomized the team’s day.
After two quick outs to open the frame Sanderson singled to centerfield, advanced to second on a passed ball, and to third on a wild pitch, putting the go-ahead run 90 feet away with Brower at the plate. Brower then worked a full count, and fouled off two pitches before driving the ninth pitch he saw into left field to make it a 4-3 game.
Azusa Pacific added to its lead with its second home run of the day when Huthsing sent his third home run of the season over the fence in left field.
“This team we’re playing is a really good team. We faced one of the top pitchers in the league, so for our guys to grind and put us in positions to win inning-by-inning was a really good sign for us today,” said Svagdis.
Azusa Pacific tallied 13 hits in the game, with 12 coming against FPU’s ace J.D. Salles. Brower batted 3-for-3 with two RBIs and finished a triple away from the cycle. The 3-through-7 hitters accounted for 12 of the Cougars’ hits, with Sanderson, Matt Kimmel, Biagini, and Huthsing each recording at least two base knocks in the win. Kimmel extended his hitting streak to 12 games to lift his team-best batting average to .429, while Brower registered his 10th consecutive game with a hit.
The Cougar pitching staff again did its part to keep the team in the game, allowing just three hits on the day without surrendering an earned run. Joel Belk pitched five innings of two-hit ball in his first game in two weeks before Joshua Grajeda tossed two shutout innings of relief to collect his first win at Azusa Pacific. Martinez closed out the Sunbirds with a pair of hitless frames, tabbing his team-leading third save of the year.
The two teams will return to action on Saturday for the third and fourth games of the series, with the nine inning, seven inning doubleheader slated to start at noon.